The challenges of operating a firm on deployment

Julius Blattner Gen JDRunning a small business is difficult enough. Trying to operate a small law practice halfway around the world in a combat zone is almost impossible.

Before I left on the deployment, my firm was finishing its third year in business and growing. We had reached the point where we needed to bring on a full-time receptionist and add additional office space. Contemplating the challenges associated with being away from the practice, I needed to decide what to do with the firm in my absence. I thought about completely closing down the firm and reassessing when I returned. I also thought about keeping the firm in a type of hibernated state to allow me to try and regrow the firm when I returned. The third option was to continue and support the firm’s growth and expand.

I did not want to consider the first two options because of how hard I worked to get the firm to the point of expansion, and I did not want to start over. The third option made me nervous because of the risk of substantially increasing my overhead and not being able to support it in my absence. Fortunately, I had a good core group of attorneys that I felt confident about going forward.

So I decided to double the size of our office by taking over the adjacent office space. I also hired a full-time receptionist who joined three attorneys, a paralegal and an office manager at the firm in my absence. I had put a team together and set them up for success. I was optimistic about the state of the firm while I was gone.

I now have been away from my law practice for four months of my 12-month deployment, and I am experiencing the challenges of being away.

The first and most obvious challenge is the fact that I am not present to network, meet with potential clients, bring in new clients or represent clients in court. For those potential clients who are specifically seeking my representation, they may seek counsel elsewhere. Ultimately, not being able to personally generate revenue for the firm makes paying the overhead very difficult.

Other challenges include the seven-hour time difference. Much of what happens at the firm occurs while I am sleeping, so timely communication is an issue. Other challenges to communication include spotty cellphone service and unreliable internet depending on where I am located.

My hours are long and it is a challenge to set aside time-off to work on the business of running the firm. I am still responsible for overseeing the bookkeeping, billing and payroll responsibilities. I am also responsible for the attorneys, staff and clients my firm represents. As the owner of the firm, I have an obligation to make sure that the firm is operating lawfully and ethically.

The other big concern is whether the attorneys and staff stay the duration of my deployment. What if one or more of them leaves for other opportunities? How will I be able to find a suitable replacement? Will we be able to continue to operate without one of the members of our team?

Will the firm survive or become a casualty of my deployment? Only time will tell.

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